In 2016, British supermodel and activist Naomi Campbell released her autobiography, Naomi Campbell, where she shared her experiences of racism as the start of her career.
Due to her ethnicity, Campbell recalls being excluded from certain fashion shows, and how it wasn’t surprising to her. In an excerpt published by The Guardian, Campbell said: “I didn't let it rattle me. From attending auditions and performing at an early age, I understood what it meant to be black. You had to put in the extra effort. You had to be twice as good.”
Later that same year, Campbell spoke to Teen Vogue over her disappointment over how there’d been little change for black models since she began modelling. Referring to similar comments made by models, Jourdan Dunn, Leomie Anderson and Nykhor Paul, Campbell spoke of how poorly equipped makeup artists and stylists are to work with the darker skin tones and natural hair textures of black models.
"When I was younger, I encountered this same issue. I would be backstage at shows and there would be stylists who didn't have any experience working with black models," she said. "It’s disappointing to hear that models of colour are still encountering these same issues all these years later," Campbell added.
In a recent video, posted to Instagram on June 12, model Joan Smalls recalled moments where she would be left out from opportunities due to her race, with some even describing her hair as “too difficult to work with”.
While seeing brands and designers posting performative allyship through their Instagram accounts, Smalls felt that their social media blackout meant that they were ultimately saying nothing on how they plan to combat racism in the industry.
"This industry that profits from our Black and brown bodies, our culture for constant inspiration, our music, and our images for their visuals have tiptoed around the issues-your part of the cycle that perpetuates these conscious behaviours," Smalls said.
She has also pledged to donate half of her salary, for the remainder of 2020, to support Black Lives Matter organisations and to advocate for others in the fashion industry to take effective action.
"Give us a seat at the table, include us, give us a chance, because we are worthy, talented, and unique.”
In an interview with Net-A-Porter’s The Edit, supermodel Jourdan Dunn spoke about the times she’d been turned away from model castings because the client “didn’t want any more black girls”.
As the first black model to walk in Prada’s fashion show in over a decade, you’d hope that meant that models of colour were starting to be seen in the industry. Unfortunately, Dunn recalls the time when a white makeup artist refusing to work on Dunn’s makeup because she was black.
Dunn has also taken to her social media platforms to express her disgust in racist behaviour, often bringing the same racial issues to the spotlight, in an effort to elicit change.
In an article for The Washington Post, in June 2020, supermodel Beverly Johnson spoke of how the industry was and still is slow to include persons of colour in the industry.
“The industry was slow to include other black people in other aspects of the fashion and beauty industry. I was reprimanded for requesting black photographers, makeup artists and hairstylists for photo shoots.” Johnson said. “Silence on race was then—and still is—the cost of admission to the fashion industry’s top echelons.”
As the first person of colour to grace the cover of Vogue U.S., Johnson has earned her stripes as one of the most famous models of this century. Yet, her efforts to end racism in the fashion industry have been completely futile, as the problem continues to exist.
“Black culture contributes enormously to the fashion industry. But black people are not compensated for it. Brands do not retain and promote the many talented black professionals already in the fashion, beauty and media workforce. Brands do not significantly invest in black designers." she said.
"The fashion industry pirates blackness for profit while excluding black people and preventing them from monetising their talents.”
In an interview with PAPER Magazine, Australian-Sudanese model Duckie Thot doesn’t attribute her home soil for her success in the fashion industry. In fact, she recalls how the racism that is still prevalent in the country, was the cause for her delayed rise to success.
After moving to New York, her career skyrocketed as a result, giving Thot the platform to explain how being an out-of-work black model in Australia, was a “mindf**k”.
"I didn't understand why, but I wasn't getting any work," Thot recounted. “I think it was a very confusing part of my life for me. I was just this little girl in Australia just being like, 'Oh yeah, I want to do modelling', but being in a country that doesn't promote black models. It was kind of like a mindf**k all in itself anyways, so I didn't really get how far I was going to go with it.”
"I just thought -- why am I here? So I was just like, 'Let me make the executive decision to move to New York'. I'm not getting my coins in Australia."
Speaking to Sunday Times Magazine, model Chanel Iman, undoubtedly the It-model of her generation, is still subject to racism at work. When asked if racism was still an issue in the fashion industry, Iman recalled her personal experiences with racial segregation by designers, saying:
“Yeah, most definitely. A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”
Australian-Sudanese model Adut Akech is more than familiar with racism in the industry, having faced it several times herself. In 2019, Akech spoke out about a situation where a magazine feature on her, was accompanied by the image of Ugandan-Australian model Flavia Lazarus. In an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne, the model recalled that it wasn’t the first time she’s felt discrimination in her line of work.
"The first time it happened I was very quiet about it," she said. "But I think this one here was way too personal and it wasn't just personal [to] me but it affected a lot of people as well.
"I just feel like I have to speak because this needs to stop, it cannot keep happening." Akech went onto explain how there was no excuse for the mistake, saying:
"As much as people can say it's a human error, it's a human error that doesn't usually happen to two white models or two white actresses," she said. "It's kind of telling me that every single black model looks the same. That's the kind of message I'm getting from that and that is racist."
In an article for ELLE Australia in 2019, Indigenous Australian model Samantha Harris recalled the times she has experienced subtle racism throughout her modelling career, starting from her childhood in beauty pageants.
"I joke about it now, but there were shows where I'd feel like one of the 'token ethnics'," Harris wrote.
"There were two other girls—an Indian model and an Asian model—and we'd always get put together in one of the shows and laugh about being 'the ethnic ones'."
She added: "In terms of representation and inclusivity, I think Australia still has a really long way to go, because while we are forward-thinking in some ways, I think we lack in other areas, which is a shame."
Supermodel Anok Yai is no stranger to experiences of racial injustice. After her friend, fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, posted a photo of the two with the caption “Anok is not a black woman, she is my friend”, many found the comment to be tone deaf.
Speaking of the controversy, Yai shared: "A lot of people have asked what my reaction was to an insensitive post from a friend of mine on Instagram last week," the model said.
"Of course, it was jarring—and it was just one of many similar microaggressions I've experienced during my time in fashion. But the bigger point I'd like to focus on is that the fashion industry needs to become educated... and fast.”
"When I was blessed with finding a career in modeling, I thought I might stop experiencing racial injustice. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, racist encounters just became more public—and exposing," she explained.
The model went on to explain the racial injustice that she witnessed and experienced herself, either backstage at a show or on set of a photo shoot.
"The lack of reaction on set or backstage is what often caught my attention," she continued. "I witnessed so many different situations where models were forced to stand up for themselves—with very little support around them, if any at all. The pain and sense of aloneness in those moments of vulnerability were unbearable."
Ebonee Davis, famously known for her campaign with Calvin Klein, decided to wear her natural hair in an effort to defy ancient beauty standards that continue to dominate the modelling industry.
”I was told that brands only booked black girls if they looked like they'd been 'plucked from a remote village in Africa' or like a 'white model dipped in chocolate,' and from the start of my career in 2011, I lived by those words," she said in an open letter for Harper’s Bazaar U.S.
"Every year, particularly during fashion week, there is an outcry felt throughout the industry,” Davis continued. "From the disproportionately low number of models of colour walking in the shows (blacks make up less than 10 percent of models on the runway; models of color make up 24.75 percent), to the lack of makeup artists trained to work on coloured skin; from the mismatching of foundation to the burning and ripping out of hair."
Davis continues to fight for racial justice, saying that it's the same inequity at the root of police brutality, the lack of representation for black women in beauty, fashion and advertising, and even the segregated black beauty aisles at drugstores.
Aaron Philip is another model who shared her thoughts on the prevalence of racism in the industry. Taking to her Instagram, Philips spoke to her followers and shared her thoughts on the lack of diversity in the fashion world, saying:
"As my platform gets bigger I will share this more and more until results of inclusion/ diversity in high fashion vs. virtue signaling is shown & implemented," she wrote.
The disabled and trans model has not only used her platform to advocate for more opportunities and appropriate care for black, trans and disabled models, but has also been posting donation links for those in need.
After modelling for Rihanna’s first ever Fenty Beauty campaign, Leomie Anderson's success has taken her to host her own TEDx Talk, where she spoke on what happens behind the lens in the modelling world. Since then, she has continued to experience racial discrimination, most recently as London Fashion Week.
The model revealed in a series of tweets, how she had been dropped from the show after being told that they were only looking for one Black model. In an interview with Dazed, Anderson spoke of the moment she revealed that she had been cut from a show, after being told the designer “had nothing for her”.
“Sometimes I know for a fact it’s going to make people shocked, but at the same time I also just don’t want to be quiet and then only tweet when I’m happy and make out like my job is all hunky dory, you know?” Anderson said.
“It creates a false perception of the industry. There are so many young girls that come up to me and say they want to be a model, and fair enough, they see my photo shoots and runway pictures, but I think it’s unfair of me to only put that part of myself out there.”